Tony Banuelos

Behind the Green Screen

Tony Banuelos will be the first to tell you he’s a product of the modern age, having experienced everything through the Internet, television and movies.  From an early age, Banuelos and his siblings were obsessively watching–and even trying to build–televisions.  His father once came home to a mini-golf course in the backyard, built from materials in the garage. To this day, Banuelos incorporates televisions in his ever-evolving artwork that functions much like a feedback loop that “never really pinpoints anything in particular” in a world of vague meanings, media-oversaturation and second-hand experiences.

(plot holes), (detail) 2011, digital print, 23”x 18”

(plot holes), (detail) 2011, digital print, 23”x 18”.

Michael C. Hsuing: Discuss the themes in your work.

Tony Banuelos: Being a product of complete media-saturation, I have experienced nearly everything second-hand. In that sense, reality is a distortion of truth or fact.  For me, authenticity, a form of energy, results out of the friction of clashing viewpoints. Technology and popular culture are the vessels of media and represent vague, hollow words. Technology might refer to computers, but what’s that really?

I’m interested in transference of energy back into ideas that seem to be frictionless.  I describe art objects as “props” because art objects are proposals to be something else, constantly shifting.

MH: Materials used?

TB: I naturally gravitate towards building objects, but the medium changes depending on what’s needed and what environment I am in. For instance, for Cathode Ray Blues, I used discarded cathode ray televisions (CRTVs), and cut uniform cubes out of sidewalk couch cushions, painting them a powder blue. If I have materials left over from a previous installation, I use them again.

(plot holes), (detail) 2011, chroma-key green paint, recycled installations; dimension of A402 gallery at CalArts

(plot holes), (detail) 2011, chroma-key green paint, recycled installations; dimension of A402 gallery at CalArts

MH: Describe your works Cathode Ray Blues: Amongst Zombies and Cyborgs, The Dead Won’t Stay Dead (techno remix), and Green: (plot holes) and how they’re all related?

TB: Cathode Ray Blues was a project that dealt with the “uncanny valley,” a 1970’s study by robotics professor Masahiro Mori. Basically, humans react positively to anthropomorphized objects as long as they don’t look too similar to human beings. If there is an “uncanny” resemblance of humanness in a non-human entity, then it is deemed aversive.  Cyborgs represent the moment before the plunge, while the zombie is the bottom of the valley.

In my installation, two rows of televisions on pedestals emerge from the cubes and face each other. One side reads, “THE DEAD WON’T STAY DEAD” and the other side reads, “TRUST YOUR TECHNO LUST,” with clips from Dawn of the Dead and 2001: A Space Odyssey under the text.  Dawn of the Dead on the techno side, Space Odyssey on the dead side.  Each clip played at a moment when the main character undergoes a metamorphosis:  Stephen becomes a zombie (Dawn of the Dead), and Dave becomes the star child (Space Odyssey).  In the middle, an HDTV sits with an image–my face painted blue calling out to the CRTVs, while ingesting a blue cube –representing the line of the zombie-cyborg that fails to undergo metamorphosis.

I sampled the phrase TRUST YOUR TECHNO LUST from the movie Hackers.  Near the finale, there’s a panning shot where a flier is seen with the phrase–TRUST YOUR TECHNO LUST–on it. Cathode Ray Blues was about imagining flesh as obsolete. Trust Techno became a party backdrop, built up in a pyramid, with a camera embedded, so you can see yourself, insisting that if you trust techno, you will experience a rave-like euphoria.

The Dead Won’t Stay Dead, a music video, was made for a group show, but seemed more of an art party, with background videos playing. Cathode Ray Blues sort of devolved in its journey from art in a party space to a party in an art space. The project totally changed in the new context and evolved as each project was remixed, mashed-up, added-onto and upgraded.

Art becomes entertainment at some point. The zombies in Dawn of the Dead relate directly to capitalism since zombies literally consume. New ideas in society start out with so much energy, but the energy is always consumed. By the time most of us find out about something new, it has already lost much of that energy. This is the point where I have experienced most of what has shaped me. I can only access that energy through nostalgia for the authentic. I need to feel those moments to feel human.

(plot holes) refers to the color green and not the actual word itself, but to the use of green screen in movies.  Based on the idea of turning the A402 gallery at Cal Arts into a set for a weeklong experimental movie, (plot holes) was about performance, authenticity and authentic moments.

Since green screens are used to “key” in something, it’s a color not found in human skin tone.  Simultaneously, though “green” also refers directly to nature and “going green,” to me it’s the most unnatural color possible.  Green screens represent exactly that zombie-cyborg reality. I applied the green screen color to the whole show, which was full with repeating portraits of myself, non-cited quotes from forward-thinkers and revolutionaries. An ambient track bellows while the pungent fresh scent from Glad Plug-ins filled the space. In the corner, I placed my 87-page screenplay that attempted to predict the future of the space.

Containing two narratives simultaneously happening in the space–the screenplay and spectators who are doubling as actors in the screenplay/movie–(plot holes) refers to gaps in the logic of the narrative, either left in to create depth or overlooked mistakes due to poor production.  Because the green screen had the ability to make the show anything or nothing at all, the spectators/actors in the movie and their judgments were all that was left. (plot holes) spawned several sequels, prequels and spinoffs.

MH: What’s coming in 2012?

TB: 2011 ended with Stochastic Resonance: Noise is Destiny, a shape-shifting installation about noise and Zen that turned two paper walls into about 250 paper crystal talismans. As for 2012, I’ve just been working on a web-based project, but I am going to try to make it out to Detroit, to trust my techno lust.

Trust Techno, (detail) 2010, remixed installation; 8’x8’x3’

Trust Techno, (detail) 2010, remixed installation; 8’x8’x3’

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